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Developing a Successful Parenting Plan

One of the most important topics covered in mediation is a developing a parenting plan, an agreement which outlines what the co-parenting arrangements will be moving forward. The ultimate goal is to establish a plan and a schedule that is fair, and will benefit the children by allowing them to receive maximum support and love from both parents so that the transition goes as smoothly as possible for everyone involved.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is an agreement between both parents that serves as the blueprint for how the children will be co-parented once everything is settled. Unlike court ordered custody plans that are established in litigated divorces, parenting plans are much more flexible and can be customized to suit the individual needs of each family. Parenting plans are also typically much more effective than traditional arrangements because they are built on a foundation that places the children’s best interests first.

What Does the Parenting Plan Cover?

While parenting plans are unique to each family, they all contain certain basic elements that provide for the children’s care and well-being, both physically and emotionally. These elements include:

  • Custody arrangements
  • Visitation schedule (including holidays and vacations such as Spring Break)
  • Plans for transitioning between homes
  • Communication arrangements between parents
  • Communication between the children and their parents, as well as with extended family

Parenting plans also cover details about such things as access to medical and school records, each parent’s role and rights in the decision making process, and child care arrangements. Some even contain detailed agreements on child raising methods, including things like discipline, chores and allowances. Most importantly, each parenting plan is tailor-made to include everything that matters to your family.

What are the Benefits of a Clearly Defined Parenting Plan?

The beauty of a parenting plan is that it can be as detailed and complex as you and your spouse want it to be. The more information it covers, the more effectively you will both be able to co-parent with one another. Custody arrangements established by the court are often very restrictive and many times leave one parent, and even the children, feeling slighted, frustrated or angry. Because parenting plans are customized for each family, they allow for a much more positive arrangement that everyone can feel comfortable with. Among other things, parenting plans are beneficial because they:

  • Place the children’s best interest at the forefront of decision-making. Mediation provides a neutral environment in which both parents can come together to calmly discuss their options and agree upon a plan that works best for everyone involved. This type of environment encourages parents to work together and to place their child’s needs and interests before their own.
  • Provide an opportunity to discuss “what-ifs” and future scenarios. Experienced mediators are in the unique position to present real-life situations and possible scenarios based on past experience with clients. We can bring these things to the table for discussion, which will better help you prepare for the future.
  • Provide a communication model for the future. Developing a parenting plan involves both parties openly communicating and calmly discussing the matters at hand. This helps to lay the ground work for how to handle future disagreements in an open, positive and mature manner.

Separation and divorce can be an incredibly difficult and emotional time, especially when there are children involved. Children often feel lost in the shuffle, with both parents focusing only on each other and engaging in unhealthy, negative interactions that only serve to cause more problems. Developing an effective parenting plan with the help of an experienced mediator can help to establish healthy boundaries, foster open communication, promote positive co-parenting and make the transition to separate households as smooth and stress-free as possible.


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In New Jersey, a separation agreement is any legal document signed by both spouses outlining the terms of the separation. Subjects resolved in a separation agreement can include child support, child custody, debt allocation and asset distribution. Notarizing the document ensures its validity, since there is no such case-type in New Jersey that provides for a "legal separation." Spouses wanting child support during the separation period, however, must file a claim with the New Jersey probation department.
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